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We officially endorse Nikita Kucherov for the Hart Trophy

Nov 7, 2023; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov (86) skates during the warmup period before the game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Ladies, gentlemen, and those that choose to identify as neither, we are here today, on the 21st of December, 2023, to formally endorse Nikita Igorevich Kucherov for the the 2023-24 Hart Trophy. While we recognize that more than half of the season remains, we ask that you officially consider him a contender (despite the fact that on the whole, it’s been a rather tepid season for the Tampa Bay Lightning).

What basis do we have to make this declaration? Well, he’s leading the league in points. Isn’t that enough? Through 32 games he has 54 points. We hear your cry of, “but the Lightning have played in, like, 40 more games than everyone else in the league so of course he has more points”. We see your argument and vehemently disagree with the entire concept. While it’s true that the Lightning have played in a league-high 33 games, Kucherov has appeared in just 32 (he had an upset tummy for one game). Of the top 10 point-leaders in the league, six of them, including Nathan MacKinnon who is second with 48 points, have played in 32 or more games.

If we switch it from total points to a rate per 60 minutes of play, his 4.68/60 still leads the league (although wunderkind Jack Hughes is close at 4.37/60). That’s quite a number and pretty much matches the 4.69/60 he put up in 2018-19 when he won this award previously. In fact, since then, the only person to average more than 4.68/60 while playing more than a handful of games in a season is a gentleman named Connor McDavid, who has hit the 5.0/60 twice. We understand that he is quite good at hockey as well.

Kucherov has eclipsed the 50-point mark quickly and in rather consistent fashion. There are only seven games this season where he’s been held off the scoresheet and only twice has he gone two games without scoring. In fact, he has just as many games with three or more points than he does with zero points. He already has an 11-game point streak and a 4-game goal streak under his belt and is currently riding a 3-game multi-point streak. Just for fun he’s recorded one-point games, two-point games, three-point games, a four-point game, and a six-point game. He’s a five-point game away from a large straight in Yahtzee (sorry, just got distracted playing online Yahtzee for 20 minutes).

While you may then move your goalposts and claim that he inflicts much of his scoring while the Lightning are on the power play (a league-leading 24 points come with the Lightning on the advantage) do those points not count in the overall score? If he scores on the power play does not the goal horn sound? They aren’t valued less when it comes to determining who wins and loses a game, so as long as he helps his team emerge victorious it shouldn’t matter how he scores.

Tampa Bay has recorded 32 power play goals this season he has a hand in 24 of them (scoring 7 and assisting on 17), that’s a fairly decent ratio. Which makes sense considering that of the 163:20 minutes of power play time the Lightning have had, he’s been on the ice for 126:54, or roughly 78% of the time. It’s not unusual for him to stay on the ice as the other four skaters change when the Lightning are on the advantage.

Now, if your belief is that a league MVP can’t possibly come from a team that is in danger of missing the playoffs, we can’t really buck you of that notion. To be fair, you would be in the majority with that line of thought as the only player to do it in the modern era is Mario Lemieux in the 1987-1988 season when he put up 168 points in 77 games and the Pens missed the playoffs by a point. However, the award is presented “to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team”. There is nothing about that team needing to make the playoffs.

Quite frankly, for anyone who has watched the Lightning this season, they know how valuable he has been to this team. Though they might not be lighting up the world at 15-13-5, they would probably be hovering around the bottom of the standings without him. Proof of that would be their performance in the one game that he missed this season, a dismal 4-0 shutout at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes. It was a game where they generated just 21 scoring chances and 9 high-danger chances all night long with just 2 (!) shot attempts in 6:00 minutes of power play time.

So imagine what they would be like without the 3.7 standing points above regulation that he has already generated this season. He’s been trying his best to get the team going early as 25 of his points, including 11 of his goals have come in the first period of games. Also, fun fact. If he doesn’t score, the Lightning don’t win. Literally. In the seven games that he failed to record a point their record is 0-5-2. Which would make their record 15-7-3 in games that he did score in (remember he missed one of their losses). A .660 points percentage would have them in second place in the Atlantic Division, trailing just the Boston Bruins. Sounds MVP-ish to us!

Not to mention he’s also done what is almost impossible for the Lightning this season – score an overtime goal:

And he does things like this without even cracking a smile:

Let’s face it, the man is an offensive machine. Look at these charts, so much blue!

Again, from a different source, look at all that blue in the offensive categories (and don’t act like you care about defense when it come to the Hart Trophy)

So, there we go. That is our argument for officially entering Nikita Kucherov in the Hart Trophy race. If for nothing else, think of the Lightning fans out there who haven’t been able to cheer for a Stanley Cup Finalist team in over one whole season. It looks like the Golden Era of Lightning Hockey is aging out as well. There are no blue chip prospects or salary cap room or draft picks to fuel a second wave. Times as dark as storm clouds on the horizon are approaching. We need this.

Talking Points